Thursday, September 26, 2013



Bill McKibben is a professor at Middlebury College in Vermont and the founder of the organization, which has mobilized people around the world to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions.  In 2009 he gave a talk titled, 350 PPM CO2: Earth's Tipping Point?, in which he described the origin and the importance of the number 350.  You can find a 3-minute part of his talk at: 
Note: While I emphasize recent news in this blog, sometimes I come across older but very important older material that I also include.

Dr. R.K. Pachauri was a  co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for peace for his work in Chairing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the U.N..   He was also the Director-General of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi, India and has been appointed to lead the newly established Yale Climate and Energy Institute.  In 2009 he gave an important lecture at the Washington Sustainability Forum titled, Global Efforts Needed to Resolve the Climate Challenge.  His slides are available at:

On Aug. 21 the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) posted an article by K. King titled, First-of-Its-Kind Easement Protects Historic Area from Sea Level Rise Impacts.  It says,Through a first-of-its-kind easement designed to protect coastal areas from the impacts of sea level rise and storm surge, the State of Maryland has preserved 221 acres in Dorchester County along the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park and Scenic Byway.”  The easement will protect an area at risk from high tides and storm surge by eliminating development, restricting impervious surfaces, and protecting areas that allow wetlands to migrate.  Because Maryland has seen about a foot of sea level rise over the past century and the loss of 13 islands in the Chesapeake Bay, the DNR now reviews all land acquisitions for climate change impacts.  At:

The NY TImes for Aug. 23 had an Opinion piece by Mark Bittman titled, The New Nuclear Craze.  He writes,There is a new discussion about nuclear energy, prompted by well-founded concerns about carbon emissions and fueled by a pro-nuclear documentary called “Pandora’s Promise.” Add a statement by  James E. Hansen— who famously sounded the alarm on climate change — and, of course, industry propaganda, and presto: We Love Nukes.”  He asks: “Is nuclear power safe and clean? Is it economical? And are there better alternatives?” and answers: No, no and yes.  With regard to clean and safe, he mentions Fukushima and the unsolved problem of nuclear waste disposal.  With regard to economical, he mentions huge federal subsidies in the form of loan guarantees and providing federal (taxpayer) insurance for catastrophic failure.  He writes that nuclear plants are “economical as long as you’re the owner, because historically, subsidies for nuclear power have been more than double the expense of power generation itself.”  He recommends giving up nuclear power and coal, using natural gas as a bridging fuel, and transitioning as rapidly as possible to wind and solar power.  At:

The September issue of National Geographic has a great article titled Rising Seas.  It has a lot of good pictures from Superstorm Sandy and a graph showing global sea level for about the past 2000 years, with tide gauge measurements from 1880, satellite measurements since 1992, and four NOAA projections from 2013 to 2100, the highest of which would raise high tides by 6.6 feet (2 m).  The ice on Greenland, which is losing mass at the highest rate, could by itself raise global sea level by 25 feet; loss of all Earth’s ice would raise sea level by 216 feet, and change the map of the world - shown on a foldout - making it look a lot like it did 40 million years ago, when carbon dioxide concentrations were much higher and there were alligators in the Arctic.  For the text, photographs and graphic see:
A presentation by Adam Parris of NOAA in January 2013 has a chart showing global sea level measurements from 1900 to 2013 and the four NOAA projections to 2100.  The presentation is online at:

Climate Name Change, in collaboration with 350Action,  has a fun video lasting a few minutes suggesting that the current system of naming major storms, which might cause problems for innocent people with names like Katrina and Sandy, should be changed to name storms after members of Congress who deny the reality of climate change and oppose action to slow it.  Some examples are given.  The authors are trying to get 50,000 signatures by Nov. 30.  At: 
I’ve signed.

The Vol. 1, No. 4 issue of the University of Delaware’s recently posted online magazine Research has a special interactive PDF section titled, Sea Level Rise.  It describes work going on at the university including: helping coastal cities minimize the damage from future coastal storms, helping teachers in grades 8-12 teach climate change science, and evaluating impacts on humans and wildlife.  There is even a report and a video on seeing the loss of Arctic sea ice firsthand. (
One study involved developing ethical government policy in response to sea level rise.  In practice, formulating such policy often comes down to determining how to spend limited resources: Who should receive financial help or compensation? In many ways, the problem parallels the classic ethical conundrum commonly known as “lifeboat ethics.” If the resources provided by a lifeboat already occupied by 10 people are only capable of supporting 15, who among the 20 people still in the water will be rescued?”  At:
Note: Since the costs of climate change and sea level rise and the responsibility for causing them will not be evenly distributed, who is going to pay for the damage, and who is going to be assisted, are fundamental issues that have scarcely been addressed.

On Sept. 20 Gina McCarthy, the new Administrator of the EPA posted an article in the Huffington Post titled, Time to Act on Climate Change., in which she described the recent new federal regulations to reduce CO2 emissions from future power plants.  New gas-fired turbines will be permitted to emit no more than 1000-1100 lbs of CO2 per MWh of electrical energy generated, depending on their size, while new coal-fired plants would be limited to 1100 lbs of CO2 per MWh -  requiring capture and storage of some of their carbon emissions.  (A MWh is 1000 kWh; my monthly home electrical energy consumption, averaged over a year, is about 700 kWh.)  She ends her article with this: We can't solve climate change overnight -- but we can get closer to a solution. As the president said -- we must ask ourselves: Do "we have the courage to act before it's too late? How we answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind," for generations to come.”  At:

The Sept. 26 issue of Scientific American has an article by Eugenie Scott and Minda Berbeco titled, A Move Is Afoot to Keep Climate Science Out of Classrooms - Evolution is not the only scientific idea being kept out of the curriculum.  Just as the teaching of evolution in classrooms has been opposed by those who think that creationism and an Earth only a few thousand years old should be taught in schools, the modern scientific understanding of climate change is being opposed, but this time for reasons of political and economic ideology.  The article concludes, Today's atmospheric warming rate is not regional; it is global. It affects land, sea and air. The scientific consensus is that humans are mostly responsible. Whatever our society decides to do about climate change, it must be based on solid science. We all will suffer if that science is compromised because of ideological opposition to its consequences. Beginning learners have a right to know what scientists have concluded. It is not right to allow religious, political or economic ideologies to trump instruction in science.”  At:

The following items are from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), Carol Werner, Executive Director. Past issues of its newsletter are posted on its website under "publications"
EESI’s newsletter is intended for all interested parties, particularly the policymaker community. 

While Coastal Communities Deal With Rising Water, Prediction of More Sea-Level Rise to Come

Several recent studies conclude that sea levels could rise several feet sometime in the next few decades.  Researchers are predicting a potential fast-paced rise in sea level up to 17 feet above modern sea level.   A paper published July 28 in Nature Geoscience by Dr. Michael J. O’Leary of Curtin University in Australia compared modern climate to a warming period before the most recent ice age. This geologic period, the Eemian, was similar to current climate and may serve as a proxy for the near future climate.  By studying ancient corals off the coast of Australia, researchers found that sea levels during the Eemain were about 10 to 12 feet above modern sea levels.  They also found that at the end of this period, sea levels rose to as high as 17 feet above modern levels in as little as 1,000 years.  Other researchers have suggested this was from a rapid collapse of either the Greenland or Antarctic ice sheet.  Questions remain of how quickly this rapid sea level rise scenario could happen, with estimates ranging between 100 and 1,000 years.  Scientists from Climate Central calculated that using current greenhouse gas emissions, sea levels could rise up to 23 feet by 2100.   

Coastal communities have already faced the effects of climate change, including the interrelated factors of rising seas and more intense storm surges.  Calculating sea level rise since 1788 along New York City’s Battery, researchers from Rutgers University recently found that sea levels rose 20 inches in the 230-year interval.  While hurricane strength is associated with meteorological conditions, higher sea levels intensified Hurricane Sandy’s flooding, causing extensive damage in low-lying areas like Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Long Island.  Some residents in the Rockaways decided not to rebuild their homes after Sandy, either because they cannot afford to rebuild or they don’t want to deal with the process of rebuilding.  Long-time resident Lynn Kramberg, who decided to stay and rebuild, commented on the psychological effects of Sandy. "It was terrible, terribly difficult [ . . . ] I live with it on a daily basis, the idea that this could happen again. My husband feels like we should leave."
For additional information see: New York Times, Study, Climate Central, LA Times

NOTE: The projection at the end of the first paragraph above, that sea levels could rise up to 23 feet by 2100 is the highest I have seen.  I suspect that Climate Central  scientists were actually discussing how much sea level rise will be “locked in” by the total emissions projected by 2100 - not how much will be observed by that date.

Climate Change Causes Flooding in Pakistan

Currently dealing with severe flooding, Pakistani leaders are reviewing policies to reduce the effects of climate change. Severe flash floods in the region in 2010 and 2011 led to the development of these policies; however, many question the country’s ability to implement these policies to deal with future disasters, noting that Pakistan still lacks an Environmental Ministry. Many Pakistani environmentalists have noted that climate change will be the greatest challenge of the 21 century, with increasing droughts and floods that will subsequently increase poverty, hunger and displacement.  The country is currently ranked 12 on a list of climate change vulnerable countries.  Both Waheed Jamali and Mohammad Saleem, noted environmentalists, commented that a strong educational campaign is needed in Pakistan, to inform the public about natural disaster preparedness in order to minimize the damages of such disasters.  Mr. Jamali commented on the disconnect between extreme weather events and climate change, noting that “in day-to-day life, climate change is not easily distinguished from climate variability, which is happening with or without global warming factors. Thus, it is imperative to make the general public aware of climate change and its impacts in such a way that they can contribute to reduce its adverse impacts. People should be at the centre of development, and any agenda will be futile if greater public support is unavailable.”
For additional information see: Daily Times of Pakistan

Climate Crisis Is Urgent for the Pacific Islands

Australia’s Pacific Climate Change Science Program estimates sea level rise in the Solomon Islands is occurring at a rate of eight millimeters per year, nearly three times the global average. The rising water is making islands, including low-lying artificial islands, uninhabitable, forcing thousands of inhabitants to relocate. Salinisation of water resources is a major problem, impacting drinking water and crops, and locals say warmer waters have driven away fish, their major source of protein. The government is still determining where to relocate inhabitants, which is complicated by ethnic tensions over land and an influx of asylum seekers in the Pacific. Cameron Vudi, disaster risk reduction manager for the Solomon Islands Red Cross believes another solution must be found, “if we get them to adapt now, give or take we still have a few decades. But the way the sea’s been rising . . . or coastal erosion’s been happening, I don’t think we have much time.”

In related news, Tony de Brum, the Minister in Assistance to the Marshall Islands President, warns that rising sea levels will create a humanitarian crisis and potentially cause 2 million refugees in the Pacific. The Marshall Islands have taken steps for urgent action on climate change, asking the Pacific Islands Forum to approve the Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership. Senator de Brum believes the support of larger Pacific nations, such as Australia and New Zealand, is crucial to the success of the Declaration, “to draw attention to that fact that climate change is now, it needs the attention of the world now."
For additional information see: World News Australia, Australia News Network

Studies Say Airborne Particulates Increase Risk of Death

A study published August 2 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, finds a positive correlation between black carbon pollution levels and mortality in US cities.  A mixture of substances emitted by combustion from cars, trucks, factories and the burning of organic matter, particulate matter pollution exacerbates and contributes to respiratory illnesses. Scientists from the Johns Hopkins and Harvard Schools of Public Health and the Yale School of Forestry studied the causes of mortality between 2000 and 2005 in 72 urban areas, focusing on the relationship between the individual pollution components and the mortality rate.  The findings indicate that some forms of particulate matter are more harmful than others, leading the authors to suggest that current air pollution regulations that regulate only the amount of particulate matter are inefficient at protecting human health.  Public health officials are also concerned about the effect that climate change will have on human populations, increasing heat stroke, respiratory illness, even famine.  Dr. Linda Rudolph, of the Public Health Institute, an Oakland, California non-profit, commented on the link between climate change and public health, stating, “if we don't act urgently and dramatically to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, climate change will undermine many of our other public health efforts and have many grave health consequences."
For additional information see: Environmental Health News, Study, San Francisco Gate

Climate Change Is Killing Off Sea Anemones

On August 8, an article published in the journal Plos One reports that sea anemones are dying and becoming bleached due to increasing temperatures from climate change. Similar to coral bleaching, rising water temperatures cause the anemone’s symbiotic algae to die, depriving the anemone of essential nutrients.  The researchers studied 14,000 anemones worldwide and found that 4 percent of the study population had been affected by bleaching.  The rate of bleaching after five high temperature episodes varied widely between populations and was found to be between 20 to 100 percent.  They also found that seven out of ten anemone species suffer from the effects of bleaching. The slow reproductive rate of the anemone has also meant that populations have been unable to recover from the losses.  The sea anemone is home to 30 species of anemonefishes, and the die-offs have affected the delicate symbiotic relationship between algae, anemones and fish.   Dr. Ashley Frisch, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University and study co-author, commented on the economic importance of reefs to local tourism industries stating, "the future of these iconic and commercially valuable coral reef fishes is inextricably linked to the ability of host anemones to cope with rising sea temperatures associated with climate change."
For additional information see:, Plos One

Caribbean Water Supplies In Danger Due to Climate Change

On September 6, at a conference in St. Lucia, experts warned that the Caribbean region’s drinking water supplies are at risk due to climate change. Most Caribbean nations access the majority of their water from underground sources, which may become contaminated by salt water as sea levels rise and cover more landmass. The problem could be compounded by changing climate patterns resulting in less rainfall to refill reservoirs. Lystra Fletcher-Paul, a Caribbean land and water officer for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned, "Inaction is not an option. The water resources will not be available."
For additional information see: The India Times

Report: Global Food Waste a Major Source of Greenhouse Gases

On September 11, the United Nation Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s Food Wastage Footprint reported that wasted food world-wide releases more carbon emissions than any country besides the United States and China. The report estimates that 1.3 billion tons (a third of all produced food) is wasted each year. This translates to 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions, 30 percent of the world’s farmland, and $750 billion in food products. Additionally, the wastage means misuse of diverse ecosystems by converting them to wasted farmland as well as prodigious amounts of water, fertilizers and chemicals that goes into uneaten food. Reducing food waste would ease the pressure on natural resources, cut greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change and lower the increases in agricultural production that will be needed to feed the world’s growing population.

In the developed world, food waste is primarily caused by consumer and industrial waste. The report cites a range of measures that could be taken to dramatically reduce waste, such as lowering food purchases and improving the supply chain. In the developing world, wastage is primarily caused by inefficient farming technology and food storage systems. With 870 million people suffering from hunger, Achim Steiner, head of UN’s Environment Program sees enormous potential in individual efforts to reduce waste. Steiner commented that “It will take less than 37 years to add another two billion people to the global population. How on earth will we feed ourselves in the future?”
For additional information see: The Independent, Financial Express, Report

EPA to Release Climate Rule for Coal and Gas-fired Power Plants

On September 20, the EPA released its new greenhouse gas emission limits for new power plants.  These rules would mark the first federal carbon emission limits on power plants, which represented 40 percent of all energy-related emissions of greenhouse gases in 2012, according to the Energy Information Administration. Most of those emissions came from coal plants. Part of President Obama’s plan to address climate change, the EPA’s role in regulations was discussed during the president’s Climate Action Plan speech in June.  

The proposal provides limits on carbon emissions for new gas-fired power plants and new coal plants. To meet the proposed targets, new coal plants would need to install carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology, to scrub carbon from plant emissions and store it securely underground or use it for other industrial purposes.  Jeffrey R. Holmstead, a coal industry lawyer and former head of EPA’s air and radiation office under President Bush, commented that the costs associated with the new regulation will make the construction of new coal plants impossible; stating, “given the costs of carbon capture and all the other problems associated with it, any rule that requires [it] will effectively prohibit the construction of new coal-fired power plants.”  

Senate Energy Efficiency Bill Receives Both Support and Opposition

The bipartisan Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill, drafted by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH), would increase energy efficiency in the construction and manufacturing sectors as well as update building codes and assist federal agencies in energy efficiency improvements.  The bill was debated in the Senate the weeks of September 9 and September 16, but as of September 12, numerous amendments had been filed, ranging from repeal of the health care law to climate change.  Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) filed an amendment to stop the EPA from placing carbon emission regulations on power plants as well as a separate amendment that would discontinue the newly updated “social cost of carbon” (SCC) metric used by federal agencies.  Senator David Vitter (R-LA) introduced an amendment to require the offices of the President, Vice President, Congress and their staffs to obtain health insurance through the new healthcare exchanges; while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) proposed an amendment to delay implementation of the new healthcare law.  Other potential amendments have been discussed, such as mandating a vote on the Keystone XL pipeline.

Several lawmakers have been openly critical of the proposed nongermane amendments, expressing concern that they will endanger the entire bill.  The White House issued a statement in support of bipartisan efforts to pass the bill, citing the bill’s co-benefits in both energy efficiency gains and in meeting the goals of the President’s Climate Action Plan.  While the conservative American Heritage Fund has opposed the bill, business leaders and environmentalists are in support.  The League of Conservation Voters said, “Senators Shaheen and Portman have written a common sense, bipartisan bill that would increase energy efficiency, save consumers money, and help grow our economy.”
For additional information see: The Columbus Dispatch, The Hill, Article 1, Article 2, Huffington Post

Antarctic Research Finds Channelized Meltwater Underneath Glacier

Published on September 13 in Science magazine, a study found channels of melted ice weakening the Pine Island Glacier Ice Shelf, the ice shelf at the edge of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) in Antarctica.  Using data collected from geophysical surveys and oceanographic sensors drilled 1,000 feet into the ice shelf, researchers found that the Pine Island Glacier Ice Shelf is melting in channels under the surface of the glacier.  One of the channels found measured 2,000 feet across, and contributed to two inches of glacier melt a day.  Tim Stanton, lead scientist on the project, explained the melting process: “freshwater forms every time [the sea] injects heat into the shelf.  The warm water starts to melt the ice at the grounding line and creates a buoyant plume called a boundary layer current."  Researchers plan to use the information found in the Pine Island Glacier study to update computer models that help predict global sea-level rise.
For additional information see: National Science Foundation, Climate Central, Science

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Chad A. Tolman
New Castle County Congregations of Delaware Interfaith Power and Light

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